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Published: 2005/03/05
by Brad Farberman

Beat – Cyro Baptista and Beat the Donkey


Cyro Baptista is the icing on your cake. And you really dig cake: cakes like Medeski, Martin and Wood, Trey Anastasio Band, John Zorn and Herbie Hancock. Cakes like Yo-Yo Ma, and Paul Simon. Cakes like Sting. And, if you were lucky enough, you caught him sharing the stage with Phish and Jay-Z (strange cakefellows, yes) this summer.

The list goes on. But dig this: the Brazilian percussion nut with the funny hat got his own cake in 1997. Eight years later, they're still slammin' and their new disc, Beat the Donkey Beat, is a hell of a record.

Likewise, Beat The Donkey (a funny English translation of a Brazilian phrase meaning "let's go!") are a hell of a band. The ensemble, a collection of at least ten musicians/performance artists, is a wacky treat for the ears and eyes: everyone is dressed in exotic and/or thrift store costumes, and each tune is rounded out by dancing, jumping and a general flailing-aboutness.

None of which gets in the way of the music, ever. These guys are top-notch players; they just like to have fun.

And you, the listener/viewer, like to have fun, too, so Beat The Donkey are irresistible. On stage, and on record.

"Forro For All," by Baptista, is a manic, world beat rave-up (marked by accordion and playful vocal lines) that dips into dub, wah-wah funk and some pretty straightforward bebop (check out multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum's tenor saxophone solo here) before returning to the theme.

The Trey Anastasio Band's "Olivia" is treated to a trademark Donkey arrangement here (that's a seamless blend of seemingly disconnected genres dotted by percussion acrobatics, if you didn't know) and the results would make Santana proud (Viva Deconcini, the group's guitarist, really gets her Carlos on). The tune descends into jazz before checking out.

"Rio De Jamaica" digs deep into (you guessed it) the dub tradition by way of some Brazilian funk (Donkey collaborator Jamie Saft arranged the piece's second half as a reggae); "Matan" gets funky and tranced-out by way of Saft's synthesizers.

And the Donkey gets to rock by way of Led Zeppelin (in the Donkey tradition, of course). Page and Plant's "Immigrant Song" gets tribal; Robert Curto's accordion handles some of Jimmy's parts, and Deconcini takes on Robert's role.

This record is bad, people (you know, in the James Brown sense of the word, i.e. really, really good). It covers all the bases (really, I can't think of many styles it didn't touch upon): it's funky, and danceable, and worldly, but accessible. And mainly, it's fun. Go out and get it. You deserve it.

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